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Cancer services continue at Southlake Regional Health Centre during COVID-19 pandemic

Thursday April 16, 2020

Newmarket, Ontario – April 16, 2020 – Like all hospitals in Ontario, Southlake has focused in recent months on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. To maximize capacity for a potential influx of patients, the hospital has ramped down surgical procedures and reduced clinic visits.

Southlake is also home to the Stronach Regional Cancer Centre. Due to the nature of the cancer care provided, dramatic reductions in service levels was not an option. “Cancer does not take a step back because there is a pandemic,” said Helena Hutton, Executive Vice President, Clinical / Chief Operating Officer at Southlake. “We continue to provide leading-edge care to the patients and families who rely on us.”

Chemotherapy patient volumes are down approximately ten per cent. All patients are unique and Southlake’s expert team works with each patient to determine the best course. Some patients, in consultation with their physician and in accordance with provincial guidelines, have chosen to adopt a different treatment cycle.

For radiation therapy, Southlake is seeing a reduction in in-person visits for treatment while still caring for the same number of patients. This is the result of using a provincially-adopted and safe approach where patients receive a higher dose each treatment session and therefore require less individual sessions.

Approximately 75 per cent of clinic visits and patient consultations have moved to virtual visits. Patients are pleased with the convenience of having the same access to their oncologist without having to leave home. Southlake’s oncologists are continuing to collaborate with other members of the interprofessional care team to ensure patients receive timely access to appropriate treatment and necessary education and supports.

“While we have adjusted some of the ways that care is delivered, we are making sure that each and every patient is getting the care they need at the time they need it,” said Dr. Peter Anglin, Physician Leader for the Stronach Regional Cancer Centre at Southlake.

A tradition exists in cancer care where patients ring a bell after their last treatment session, surrounded by family and friends. With visitor limitations in place, staff are participating so this ceremony can continue. Staff clap for the patient, take pictures, and honour this ritual, so that patients can celebrate this memorable time surrounded by those who provided their care.

“Everyone is concentrating on ensuring patients, families and caregivers continue to have the best experience possible during this challenging time,” said Catherine Cotton, Director of the Stronach Regional Cancer Centre at Southlake. “Our amazing staff have really stepped up. In addition to their daily work, they are taking on new roles, including greeting patients and escorting them to and from treatment.”

The Stronach Regional Cancer Centre team is discussing how some of these innovative new practices (such as virtual visits) can continue once the pandemic subsides. “The pandemic has pushed the healthcare system to find more patient-friendly and efficient ways to deliver care and I anticipate these will continue in the future,” said Dr. Anglin.